The D Brief: US winds down in Niger; NATO’s new needs; ICBM OKd; DOD postpones Georgian exercise; And a bit more.

New: The U.S. military withdrew troops from a key base in Niger, Air Base 101 beside the Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital city of Niamey, officials at Africa Command said Monday. For several years, the U.S. kept a contingent of about 1,000 troops in the West African country spread across at least two locations. It’s unclear precisely how many remain after Monday’s announcement.  

The exit follows last year’s coup in Niger, which was followed immediately by a surge in pro-Russian support after military leaders pushed out the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and placed him under house arrest. “Bazoum entered office in 2021 in Niger's first democratic and peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960,” the BBC reported shortly after the coup. 

Nearly a year later, “Trapped with his wife, Hadiza, and two domestic workers, he has no access to a phone and is not allowed to see his lawyers,” the New York Times reported in early May, and added, “His only visitor is a doctor, who brings him food once a week.” He now faces the prospect of imprisonment on allegations of treason after a recent court decision stripped the deposed president of immunity from prosecution. 

Worth noting: “As the U.S. exits, Russia has deployed military forces to the same base, where they are carrying out training activities,” Reuters reported ahead of the withdrawal on Friday. 

Next up, U.S. forces will pivot to tearing down and exiting their remote Air Base 201 in Agadez, AFRICOM officials said Monday. The deadline for a full U.S. departure has been negotiated for September 15. Read more, or check out a five-photo spread of the Niamey withdrawal, here

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1962, the U.S. detonated a nuclear device in outer space during a series of tests known as Starfish Prime.

Developing: If NATO wants to better prepare for a future attack from Russia, the alliance estimates it will need between 35 and 50 extra brigades—or between 100,000 and 350,000 more troops, which “would present a significant challenge,” Reuters reported Monday. 

Background: “At a summit in Vilnius last year, NATO leaders agreed on the alliance's first major defence plans in more than three decades, and officials have been working on translating the documents into concrete military demands since then,” Reuters writes. Aside from a well-known need for more air defense systems, not much more is known just yet, since alliance military plans are officially classified. A bit more, here.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers recently returned from Europe after discussions on “National Security Space issues,” the seven-member delegation announced Monday. Their trip took them to Luxembourg, France, and Italy.

Attending: House Armed Services Committee leaders Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington; as well as Oklahoma Republican Stephanie Bice, Texas Democrat Veronica Escobar, Alabama Republican Gary Palmer, and Democrats Donald Norcross of New Jersey and California’s Jimmy Panetta.

Issues motivating this visit: China, Russia, and “nearly daily attacks from Russia on government and commercial satellites as they wage their unjust war against Ukraine,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. 

“If we are going to counter this increasing threat, we must work with like-minded allies and partners,” they said, and added, “we were encouraged to find partners who not only openly acknowledge the threat but have started to realign their own organizations and industrial base to respond.” More here

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The Pentagon “indefinitely postponed” a planned joint exercise with Georgia last week. U.S. defense officials announced the cancellation of its 2024 Noble Partner drills on Friday, more than a month after parliamentarians in the former Soviet republic passed a law closely mirroring a Russian policy that critics say is designed to stifle opposition to the ruling Georgian Dream political party. Consideration and later passage of the law triggered protests before parliament in both 2023 and 2024. 

Behind much of the drama is Georgia’s richest man and former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is also the founder of the Georgian Dream party. In April, he accused foreign aid organizations of being part of a Western spy network that wants to “turn Georgia into a second front” with Russia. He has urged the law’s passage ahead of upcoming elections this fall. 

According to the U.S. military, “The decision to postpone this iteration of Noble Partner is due to the Georgian government's false accusations against the United States and other western entities, to pressure Georgia to open a second front against Russia to alleviate pressure on Ukraine, and of participating in two coup attempts against the ruling party,” the Defense Department said last week in a statement. “As such, the United States Government has determined that this is an inappropriate time to hold a large-scale military exercise in Georgia.”

Top U.S. officials have expressed their dismay over the law, including State Secretary Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. And in late May, Blinken announced a formal comprehensive review of the U.S. relationship with Georgia, and it tightened visa restrictions on “individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.”

Expert reax: “The combination of Ivanishvili’s views and a ruling party that executes his every decision with no questions asked is putting the Georgian people’s safety and future at risk,” Maia Nikoladze and Ana Lejava wrote in May for the Atlantic Council. But Georgia is not alone: Hungary and Kyrgyzstan passed similar laws in 2023. “Three states in Eastern Europe and Eurasia pushing to adopt Russian-style foreign agent laws almost at the same time might not be a coincidence,” Nikoladze and Lejava warned. “It is possible Russia is inspiring or even pressuring the ruling parties,” they added, and cited recent remarks from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Read more, here.

The Pentagon says it will keep building a new ICBM despite ballooning costs. The Air Force’s Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile is the cheapest way to fulfill its essential role in national security, DOD acquisition chief William LaPlante told reporters on a Monday conference call. 

“There are reasons for this cost growth, but there are also no excuses,” LaPlante said, and announced that he had “rescinded the program’s Milestone B approval, which in September 2020 authorized the program to move into its engineering and manufacturing development phase. He also ordered the Air Force to restructure the program to address the root causes of the cost overruns and make sure it has the right management structure to keep its future price down,” Defense News reported Monday.

Recap: In January, the service reported that the estimated cost had passed $131 billion, a 37 percent increase over the 2020 estimate. Just weeks ago, the Air Force fired the program manager; a spokesman said the dismissal was “not directly related” to the program's cost growth.

Dissenting view: Critics of the program, which include several lawmakers, say the plan to spend a quarter-trillion dollars to develop, buy, and operate a new ICBM will make the nation less safe than pursuing alternatives. Read one such argument, here.

And lastly today: We say goodbye to longtime Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, who passed away around 5 a.m. local time this morning at the age of 89, Tulsa World reported Tuesday. “Sources say he passed peacefully and surrounded by family after a sudden illness over the 4th of July holiday,” Oklahoma City’s News9 reports. He served five terms in the Senate after his first election in 1994, and went on to become Oklahoma’s longest-serving senator. He was also the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee from 2018 to 2021 before retiring from congress in 2023. 

Inhofe spent one year in the Army during the late 1950s before taking a family job selling insurance ahead of his career in politics. According to OKC’s ABC News 5, “He ran for public office 51 times, winning 48 of those races.”

Defense One's Brad Peniston adds: Inhofe was known as a climate-change denier who long worked to roll back environmental-protection policies. He passed away during the hottest year on record.